That’s the irony because Steve Cozza loves to race his bike.
Cozza (NetApp) temporarily retired today from the sport of professional cycling at the age of 26. It wasn’t the legs that went or the brutal grind of racing or the accumulated damage of too many crashes. He retired because he couldn’t get his digestive tract to function correctly.
That’s a sad and unexpected halt to a young career that held plenty of promise. Cozza turned pro with Vaughter’s Team Slipstream in 2007. He won the best young rider award at the Tour of Missouri in 2007 and the U23 national time trial title in 2005. He was fun and cool and irrepressible.
Things looked promising for Cozza and in 2011 he took his big chance by signing with NetApp, an upstart German squad with outsize ambitions. There was talk of Cozza being their team leader in the classics. He moved to Europe with his beautiful podium gal and writer girlfriend.
Things felt almost fairytale but then the bad things happened. Mysterious health issues and crashes and finally the diagnosis of colitis. His first season was a washout and the only news concerning Cozza was his efforts to deal with the digestive issues. He made radical and extreme changes to his diet. He tried to rid his body of candida and somehow bring the colitis under control By the end of the season he was, as the phrase goes, guardedly optimistic.
That optimism is now far gone. “For too long now I have been struggling with colitis,” he said in a statement issued by the team . “I am getting better at managing it but at this point it is not improving fast enough for me to continue at this professional level in the sport of cycling.”
That’s terrible news for all bike race fans. When we covered our first race, the 2010 Tour of California, we were a little in awe of the big stars. Seeing guys like Armstrong, Boonen, Leipheimer and Cancellara was intimidating at first. We warmed up our interviewing skills with riders like Cozza and he was always generous with his time and happy to talk. We still remember with a smile Cozza telling me that a descent was gonna be “sketchy.” Plus his home base was 40 minutes up the road in Petaluma, California.
So our hopes were with Cozza when me moved to Net App. Unfortunately, his dream never really had a chance to come true. “I love the sport of cycling so to only be able to perform at 50% of my best because of my health has been very frustrating. I miss the rider I used to be – the aggressive one attacking nonstop throughout the race. Therefore, I have made a really tough decision to change my focus away from racing. I have to get my body and my health right – that’s all that counts. But in the end I can be proud because I know I gave it my best until the end.”
It you have a chance, take the time to visit Steve Cozza’s website and drop him a few words of encouragement. You’ll also discover his charity work for disadvantaged kids. Pro cycling losses and cool character and a class act. We wish him the best.